Fifth House Ensemble

“You have to admire the sheer imaginative chutzpah these young performers bring to their envelope-pushing enterprise.”

John Von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

Praised by the New York Times for its “conviction, authority, and finesse,” the Chicago-based Fifth House Ensemble harnesses the collaborative spirit of chamber music to reach beyond the traditionally-perceived limits of classical music. The ensemble’s artistic, educational, and civic programs engage theater groups, video game designers, corporate innovators, and folk bands to share stories as diverse as the communities it serves.

Kicking off the 2019-2020 season, Fifth House Ensemble partners with AWR Music Productions to announce Undertale, a live musical adventure based on Toby Fox’s indie video game hit. Featuring in-game visuals and audience choice along with new arrangements for acoustic dectet, percussion, and electronics by AWR Music Director Eric Roth, Undertale invites audiences to explore a secret world of monsters who were sealed underground long ago with an ingenious twist: that it’s possible to spare monsters rather then slaying them, inviting players to empathize with those most unlike themselves. Featuring a cast of quirky characters, mysteries galore, and a foot-tapping soundtrack, Undertale has quickly become one of the most celebrated games of all time with over 4 million active players worldwide.

This season also features the premiere of Rivers Empyrean, a program tracing the life cycle of water at time when the environment is more threatened than ever with pollution and our life-giving waterways at risk. Featuring a new commission by Fresh Inc Festival alumnus Patrick O’Malley driven by ecological data from Friends of the Chicago River, a new commission by Shawn Okpebholo that celebrates water as a precious resource by transforming it into a musical instrument, alongside music inspired by First Peoples, this program asks what it would mean to return to a sacred conception in which humans are a part of nature rather than beings standing outside of its impact. During the 2019-2020 season, Fifth House Ensemble will co-create public performances, events, and educational programs with its organizational partners on the project, including Friends of the Chicago River, the American Indian Center, Chicago Wilderness, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, including musical days of service and a musically reactive floating eco-park designed in partnership with partner organization Wild Mile and sound artist Beth Bradfish.

Performances in previous seasons include those at Texas Performing Arts, LiveConnections (Philadelphia, PA), the MAGFest music and gaming festival (National Harbor, MD), WFMT Impromptu (Chicago, IL), Steppenwolf Theater, the Forma Festival (Moscow), National Sawdust (NYC) and the Miller Theatre (NYC).

Through the ensemble’s heartfelt social and civic practice work, Fifth House has co-created artistic projects with urban neighborhoods, social service organizations, and an agricultural community to spark conversations on issues that matter. Recent projects include Broken Text, a collaboration with Raven Theatre and DJ Searchl1te inspired by multi-week residencies at the Cook County Temporary Youth Detention Center and St. Leonard’s Ministries; Voices from the Dust Bowl, a collaboration with composer Steven Snowden and bluegrass band Henhouse Prowlers exploring stories from workers’ rights organizations nationwide; Nedudim, an exploration of music and cultural identity in collaboration with Baladino that engages Chicago-based organizations representing Israel, Iran, Germany and Spain, and Harvest, a year-long partnership with DePauw University and the Greencastle, IN community culminating in a Mother’s Day celebration of the people, places, and stories of Putnam County.

Reaching 17,000 students annually through its arts-integrated educational programs, Fifth House connects K-12 core curricula to vivid, custom-crafted, and interactive musical experiences which challenge students to share and lead. A member of the Illinois Arts Council Association’s Arts-in-Education Roster, Fifth House has presented performances and residencies at Chicago public schools and the Chicago Cultural Center in partnership with the International Music Foundation, the Chicago Teachers’ Center, Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education, and Ravinia’s Reach*Teach*Play program.

As an extension of this work, Fifth House enters its fifth year of partnership with Loyola University’s Center for Urban Research and Learning this season, through which the ensemble is in residence at sites serving at-risk youth and adults including Deborah’s Place, Ignite (formerly Teen Living Programs), and Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School at the Chicago Temporary Youth Detention Center. Fifth House also partners with Storycatchers Theatre as part of its residency at the detention center to develop new curriculum culminating in a new theatrical work based on participants’ own experiences.

An established partner and resource to the nation’s top music schools and conservatories, Fifth House launches the careers of emerging artists through entrepreneurship residencies and training programs, including those at Yale College, Eastman School of Music, New England Conservatory, Indiana University, Roosevelt University, the Cleveland Institute of Music, UT-Austin, Northwestern University, San Francisco Conservatory, DePaul University, and the Colburn School. Recent creative partnerships have included those with The Cleveland Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera. In 2012, Fifth House launched Fresh Inc, a two-week, intensive training program for emerging composers and performers where Fifth House works with participants on building careers in music in line with their own unique, vision and values.

Fifth House is currently an Ensemble in Residence at the Music Institute of Chicago.

Read more about our ensemble members here.